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A Better Way to Engage Staffing Agencies for Your Contingent Workforce Program


Due to evolving workforce trends, digital transformation, and recent coronavirus-related upheavals, businesses are turning to contingent labor more than ever before. A recent study confirms that[...]

October 06, 2020

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RFPs: When To Use Them and When To Avoid (Bonus Inside: RFP Toolkit)

Part 1 in a series of 3 - originally written in 2014 and updated in 2018

The traditional approach to selecting and engaging vendors has become less persuasive and less meaningful to wary clients. They inevitably turn to the almighty RFP (Request for Proposal). And there’s something to be said about a transition to enterprise sales, or the “capture” process as it’s referred to by Shipley disciples and government contractors.

Creating and responding to RFPs, however, can easily become complex, cumbersome and time consuming endeavors for any firm. They require organization, superior communication and years of experience understanding the intricacies of sourcing. For many in the staffing industry, RFPs have practically replaced traditional sales and sourcing; at the very least, they’re now intricately woven into those processes. And we want to help.

In this series, we’ll shed some light on when to use or avoid RFPs and best practices that can be applied to the dreaded RFP process, whether you’re an MSP or staffing agency receiving a client bid and wanting to make sure that you will have a better process and consequently a better win rate, or if you are the entity issuing the tender to potential talent suppliers.

When to use RFPs

RFPs should be used when a project is sufficiently complex, requires a great deal of technical information, solicits hard data for analysis and comparison, and thereby warrants a formal proposal from a supplier. They’re best used when you really need to compare responses and vendors objectively. A common mistake is to send out an RFP because it seems easier that sitting through sales pitches or because people say it’s the “right thing to do for appearances” or “good form.” If you know beyond reasonable doubt which vendor(s) you’re likely to select from the onset, invite your identified prospects to present their solutions.

By way of example, if you are trying to decide between two known and previously identified staffing suppliers, schedule these folks to demonstrate their capabilities in a presentation. Assess how each vendor tailors its solutions to your specific objectives and culture. The meeting can be an online video hangout or in-person interview. It’s best not to rely on a conference call because you’ll want some form of visibility -- a means by which to scrutinize the interpersonal interactions. Gauge the body language and confidence of the presenters, especially in response to questions.

After that, invite a formal proposal for a bid. We call that a Request for Quote (RFQ). And honestly, that’s all an RFQ should be. Don’t stuff it with RFP questions. We’re not going down that road in this instance, remember? We’re talking pricing here. You’ve seen everything else you need to see.

When the project and the anticipated sales cycle take on complexities that extend beyond the scope of a traditional “let’s do lunch” approach, the RFP process makes a good deal of sense. With a proposal, you receive enhanced visibility into the bidder’s key offerings and core competencies, relatively firm pricing models, comprehensive answers to crucial questions, and a robust document that lends itself to more in-depth analysis by your stakeholders.

When to avoid RFPs

The RFP process falls apart quickly when used too frequently, unnecessarily or exclusively as a sales tool. As often as bidders miss the point with a proposal, procurement professionals miss the point when crafting their RFPs. Avoid using an overly complicated RFP process to address simple questions that could have been answered succinctly and directly through a traditional sales meeting. Ultimately, you run the risk of alienating prospective bidders who, perceiving your overreliance on unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy, decline to participate. Though not realizing it, you may be harming your chances of finding the perfect vendor. However, if you operate in a heavily regulated environment or in the public sector, where RFPs are mandated, strive to keep your questions relevant, direct and targeted to the program.

If you opt to exploit this process as a broader fishing expedition, you’re less likely to lure fish to your hook. And those that bite will probably be thrown back soon enough.

Looking for an RFP Toolkit? Here it is.

To make RFPs a painless and efficient way for MSPs to achieve their goals, we are proud to present a complete RFP toolbox, which can serve as a great starting point for your next round of sourcing.  Despite the formal processes, endless forms and arcane RFP gobbledygook, the prevailing mindset you can adopt to win is Ockham’s Razor: the simplest and most direct approach is probably the best. We have therefore prepared a common sense package that delivers results in a straightforward manner. We also understand that nobody should hand you an RFP template and say “just use this, as is.” The point of our toolkit is to give you a firm, customizable foundation from which you can craft a unique RFP, tailored to your company’s needs, and accompanied by tools to help with evaluation, scoring and pricing.

In the second part of our series, we’ll examine some specific best practices in transparency and information sharing that can help you get the most meaningful responses from any RFP you issue to staffing suppliers.

Read part 2: Simplify your RFP process by adding these things to your RFP.

Casey Enstrom
Casey Enstrom
Casey is one of the staffing industry’s household names, specializing in sales and operations leadership. He brings extensive knowledge of business development and sales strategies, predictive analytics, leadership, and human capital solutions. Prior to Crowdstaffing, Casey served as the Vice President of Technical Sales, North America, for a Fortune 1000 staffing firm.
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